Large-flowered Trillium

Trillium grandiflorum. Large-flowered Trillium offers an example of the importance of symbiotic balance in nature. This handsome member of the Lily family both relies on — and is threatened by — White-tailed Deer. Large-flowered Trillium depends on several creatures to survive.  Bumblebees pollinate its flowers and later in the season, black berries appear, bearing seeds. As with violets and other spring species, ants collect and bury the seeds; they eat the fatty appendages called elaiosomes and discard the seeds in underground tunnels — in effect, planting them. But this process, called mymechochory or “ant farming,” spreads the seed only a short distance from the mother plant. Deer, on the other hand, may establish plants a mile from the mother, helping assure a greater range for the species. Deer love trillium, eating flowers, leaves and berries. In the process the seeds pass through the digestive system and are deposited, with fertilizer, often far from their source. If deer populations are “normal,” only the higher parts of the trillium tend to get eaten. However, in many parts of the eastern United States, the deer herd is so large that Large-flowered Trillium is being eaten to the ground, denying the rootstock the nutrition it needs and killing off colonies.

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